A Century After Lady Astor Took Her Seat in Parliament, How Have British Politics Changed for Women?Breaking News
tags: women, British Politics
A century ago, Nancy Astor made the train journey from her constituency in Plymouth, a city on the coast of southwest England, to London. There, on Dec. 1, 1919, she took her seat in Parliament — the first woman in British history to do so.
When she was elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) in the U.K. in 1919, women, and only some women (those over the age of 30 who met a property qualification) had been entitled to vote for just over a year. Astor was not the first first woman to be elected to Parliament — in 1918, Constance Markievicz won an election in Dublin, Ireland, but she abstained from taking her seat due to her political party Sinn Féin’s policy. This meant Astor was the first woman to break that barrier. In doing so, she defied centuries of sexism entrenched in British society and, with her debut in Parliament, entered a then-totally male dominated world.
In many respects, Astor’s legacy is a complex one. She was later re-elected seven times before retiring in 1945, having lost the support of her party. Historians and biographers have pointed out that her views in the 1930s included reported sympathies with Nazism and fascist movements; she is also reported to have made anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic statements.
24 female MPs were elected in the 1945 general election and Astor was succeeded in Plymouth by Lucy Middleton, a politician from the Labour party.
Although her political life played out during an entirely different era, historians and modern-day lawmakers there are several parallels between Astor’s experiences and those of female politicians in the U.K. today.
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